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Nunez, Konate & who starts vs. Man City? – Last word on Sparta 1-5 Liverpool

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Liverpool’s 5-1 victory away to Sparta Prague could be seen as the perfect warmup to the visit of Man City, but did Jurgen Klopp make a mistake with Ibrahima Konate?

The Reds cruised to a win in the Europa League on Thursday night, putting themselves on the cusp of the quarter-finals.

Once Alexis Mac Allister opened the scoring from the penalty spot, Liverpool rarely looked back, and Darwin Nunez (twice), Luis Diaz and Dominik Szoboszlai also got in on the act.

Following the Reds’ latest win, TIA duo Henry Jackson (@HenryJackson87) and Matt Ladson (@mattladson) are here to discuss a resounding victory and to look ahead to Man City on Sunday.

 

What stood out as the positives for you on the night?

PRAGUE, CZECH REPUBLIC - Thursday, March 7, 2024: Liverpool's Alexis Mac Allister (L) celebrates with team-mate Darwin Núñez after scoring the first goal during the UEFA Europa League Round of 16 1st Leg match between AC Sparta Praha and Liverpool FC at Stadion Letná. (Photo by David Rawcliffe/Propaganda)

HENRY: All in all, it was a near-perfect night for Liverpool, in terms of the result.

It allows Klopp to rest players next week ahead of the FA Cup clash with Man United, and certain individuals got key minutes in their legs.

Granted, Liverpool weren’t exactly rock-solid defensively – hell of a finish, Conor! – but Kelleher was once again outstanding.

The level he is performing at is one I will hold my hands up and say I didn’t think he was capable of reaching.

I thought Mac Allister was the best player on the pitch again – with each passing game, the more he looks like the Premier League signing of the summer.

Szoboszlai looked full of energy off the bench, too, which can only bode well ahead of Sunday.

PRAGUE, CZECH REPUBLIC - Thursday, March 7, 2024: Liverpool players line-up for a team group photograph before the UEFA Europa League Round of 16 1st Leg match between AC Sparta Praha and Liverpool FC at Stadion Letná. (Photo by David Rawcliffe/Propaganda)

MATT: Yeah, definitely the margin of victory meaning we can rotate heavily in the return leg is the biggest positive from the night.

With the two Manchester clubs to play either side of next week’s second leg, and injuries seemingly showing no sign of abating, having a four-goal margin for that home match is a huge positive.

Goals for Nunez are very helpful for his confidence ahead of Sunday, too.

 

How excited are you about Nunez at this point?

PRAGUE, CZECH REPUBLIC - Thursday, March 7, 2024: Liverpool's Darwin Núñez (R) celebrates with team-mate Luis Díaz after scoring the second goal during the UEFA Europa League Round of 16 1st Leg match between AC Sparta Praha and Liverpool FC at Stadion Letná. (Photo by David Rawcliffe/Propaganda)

HENRY: There was a point when I was concerned about him, not just because of his erratic finishing but also his all-round game being too unpredictable.

He has come on so much this season, however, and he goes into the Man City game as our biggest threat, given Salah’s lack of match fitness.

He is never out of the action, which is a talent that not all footballers possess, but he is now adding substance regularly.

Both finishes against Sparta were so emphatic, and some of his movement was superb, as was the case for his winner at Forest.

I feel for defenders who come up against him because it must be like trying to track Red Rum in full flight during the Grand National!

PRAGUE, CZECH REPUBLIC - Thursday, March 7, 2024: Liverpool's Alexis Mac Allister (L) celebrates with team-mate Darwin Núñez after scoring the first goal during the UEFA Europa League Round of 16 1st Leg match between AC Sparta Praha and Liverpool FC at Stadion Letná. (Photo by David Rawcliffe/Propaganda)

MATT: I think there’s more to the relationship with Mac Allister that has helped him, too. Having somebody both on and off the pitch who he feels comfortable with and understands him.

Their celebration together – the maté mates – was a lovely little sign of that growing bond.

I also think the pure love he’s received from fans throughout his time with us has helped. It’s been unequivocal and it’s played into his psyche, this ‘us against the world’ approach.

I think he loves that.

 

What did you make of not substituting Konate at half-time?

PRAGUE, CZECH REPUBLIC - Thursday, March 7, 2024: Liverpool's Ibrahima Konaté (L) is replaced by substitute captain Virgil van Dijk during the UEFA Europa League Round of 16 1st Leg match between AC Sparta Praha and Liverpool FC at Stadion Letná. (Photo by David Rawcliffe/Propaganda)

HENRY: I was fuming with Klopp when Konate went down, I’m not going to lie.

We all know that Konate is never too far away from an injury and he just had to come off at half-time, considering the magnitude of Sunday’s match.

It looks as though we may have dodged a bullet – all fingers are currently being crossed! – but keeping him on the pitch was so, so needless.

Some may say that bringing Van Dijk on at half-time would have been a risk in itself, which is true, but he is far less injury-prone.

MATT: Pre-match I’d assumed Konate and Virgil would play a half each. When the teamsheet arrived it seemed pretty obvious Virgil would come at half-time.

Quite why he didn’t is baffling. I assume they wanted to rest Virgil more and get Konate nearer to an hour. But it completely backfired.

This is where not having Matip, a fourth centre-back, available is biting us. You need to be able to fully rotate.

That and if Trent was available then Gomez could actually play centre-back.

 

What would your XI be against City?

LONDON, ENGLAND - Saturday, September 30, 2023: Liverpool's Mohamed Salah during the FA Premier League match between Tottenham Hotspur FC and Liverpool FC at the Tottenham Hotspur Stadium. (Pic by David Rawcliffe/Propaganda)

HENRY: The Salah conundrum is the biggest call Klopp has to make, but I think you have to go with him, especially as Gakpo is a long way from his best.

There is an argument to say that Mo could be a game-changer off the bench, but this is the biggest game of the season and he can be the difference-maker from the start.

Another major call is whether to go with Robertson or Gomez at left-back, and while I’m very tempted by the latter, Robbo loves these games.

I would go: Kelleher; Bradley, Konate, Van Dijk, Robertson; Endo, Szoboszlai, Mac Allister; Salah, Diaz, Nunez

How about you, Matt?

LIVERPOOL, ENGLAND - Wednesday, February 21, 2024: Liverpool's Joe Gomez during the FA Premier League match between Liverpool FC and Luton Town FC at Anfield. (Photo by David Rawcliffe/Propaganda)

MATT: The only change I’d make there is Gomez in for Robertson.

In fact, you can justifiably make an argument for Gomez starting at right-back, left-back or centre-back now that Konate is a doubt.

I just think Gomez gives us something different and more solidity. You can then bring on Robertson for Bradley as the youngster tires, switching Gomez to right-back and having Robertson as a different outlet later on.

Kelleher; Bradley, Konate, Van Dijk, Gomez; Endo, Szoboszlai, Mac Allister; Salah, Diaz, Nunez

It’s tempting to keep Salah on the bench but I think that’s just us worrying over injuries so much due to recent trauma!